Category Archives: December

Malingering WInter

The morning walk of 13 March, before the plow truck

The morning walk of 13 March, before the plow truck

 

Malingering, according to my Shorter Oxford means    to pretend illness in order to escape duty, said especially of soldiers and sailors.  I have a new definition:  lingering in the vicinity with malicious intent, for example, this winter that is still here, lingering maliciously via a wintery mix, two days after the spring equinox.

Now, I’m a big fan of winter in general.  What’s not to like?  There’s the magic of snow falling, blanketing the world, forcing a slowdown, and bringing a quiet that is rare even here in the woods.  I think most people who don’t care for the vagaries of winter are those who have a hard time slowing down and those who allow the weather to limit their activity.  My days don’t change much through the seasons.  I walk twice a day, at least, every day because I feel better for doing so and the dog requires that routine.  Even though he could go for his own walks, he likes to know that I am on patrol as well.  Walking in the winter is actually easier because I can add clothes layers as needed to suit the conditions and I have excellent traction devices as needed too.

Garb for the super cold days, -25C and NW wind requires layers of wool, hat, hood and fur collar and headband as well as double mitts.

Garb for the super cold days, -25C and NW wind requires layers of wool, hat, hood and fur collar and headband as well as double mitts.

Dogs stay cleaner in a cold winter.  No mud.  This winter could have been better with more actual snow and less wintery mix, (freezing rain and sleet ruin good snow for snowshoeing) but it was nice and cold for a  prolonged time.  I have a trail we walk in the afternoon up the hill.  I go fast uphill and Murphy and I both love running downhill in the snow.  I run no matter the footgear, snowshoes, cleats or bare boots.  I run because it’s easier to get momentum and keep it and I figure if it’s slippery (which it usually is, especially where I have already compressed the snow) then the less time my feet are on the ground the less chance to slide suddenly.

 

Ice on a staghorn sumac.  Everything had an inch of ice on it for two weeks at the end of December.

Ice on a staghorn sumac. Everything had an inch of ice on it for two weeks at the end of December.

The crusty conditions this winter made running downhill more of a challenge.  The frozen trail was mostly a ribbon of mini moguls and stepping to the side could mean going through crust to softer deeper snow.  Concentration is key, but I get laughing as I run because Murphy is often right on my heels so I can’t stop.  I think he thinks it’s funny to run downhill in the snow, nearly on top of me.

This winter we had not enough snow that got crusted with freezing rain, frequently, so I walked shod with cleats mostly and finally found some kickass cleats that  allow me to tap dance on icy hills like our driveway this past December.  My new cleats, Katoohla Microspikes, are like tire chains for my feet.  They have come in really handy when I needed to climb the icy hill no matter the conditions to retrieve Murphy from his bark about patrols.

Several times a week Murphy doesn’t come home from the walk and instead does his patrol of the ridge: ruff, ruff, ruff, pause, ruff, ruff.  Repeat.  He’s a Great Pyrenees by temperament and he could do this all night long.  Slow to learn me, I only just realized that we have been playing a game of his devising.  I call it stalking.  I head up the hill and try to circle around behind and get close enough to him so that he has to acknowledge me and come.  He won’t come when I call because he is on a mission, eliminating all denizens from the area.  I usually fail at round one.  He moves farther away or goes silent.  I concede by walking back toward our dooryard.  In December I would do this so as night fell I could more easily see to get back in the near dark.  I have a headlamp but it is still hard to bushwhack in the dark with a small light.  Easier with deep snow to follow my tracks.

Anyway, once I start walking away, I make some noise and then stop.  Within a minute Murphy comes racing up to where I am, winner of the second round.  Sometimes he really surprises me by leaping out from thick trees nearly in front of me.  I yelp and he looks most gratified.  He gets cookies  and praise and leashed and we head for home.  Sometimes if it’s not too close to nightfall we stop and contemplate the universe.  When there is snow on the ground it’s more easy to see where Murphy sits to keep an eye on things below.  I’m sure he is getting most of his information with his nose but I mostly look and listen.  Crouched on the top of a frozen hill in the spooky woods in January I hear the wind waves in  patterns like the ocean waves.  Ah, to be a bird and be able to surf those waves.

Alas, wingless, bound by gravity, still there is fun to be had.  Now that Spring is here we occasionally get a slightly warming day with some melt between  the sub-zero and wintery mix days.  There are patches of smooth ice on the edges of the road still frozen on the morning walks.  I go cleat-less  and run and slide as far as the leash will let me while Murphy checks the pee-mail.  He gets to make his mark five feet up the trees courtesy of the snow banks beside the road.  Later, those that can perceive it will think a giant dog lives here.

There are lacy ice-edged, frozen puddles to crunch along and later in the day, if it warms enough, slushy snow to squash beneath my feet.  Running downhill then has a lot more slide to it.

While waiting for Murphy to catch me up on the trail loop I discovered a big old pine tree drum.  I was breaking dead branches off the bottom and the remaining bits have several nice tones depending on my striker so I stop as I walk by and drum on the hill sometimes.

It’s all fun and mostly I’ve had a good winter, even trapped by the ice storm over the winter holidays.  I got chains for my truck so I could climb the ice hill so no worries there. Still, I have about two days of wood left in the garage and I will need to move some of my last cord of wood that is stacked (and covered, luckily) outside.  I had hoped that more snow would be gone but now it looks like I’ll have to hack out the pickup and clear out the back so I can load wood and move it.

So for many, maybe most, winter is lingering with malicious intent, but I’m still playing here.  Yippee!

Impossible for me to capture the sparkle of the ice everywhere in December when the sun finally broke through the freezing rain.

Impossible for me to capture the sparkle of the ice everywhere in December when the sun finally broke through the freezing rain.

 

 

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December, also ambivalent

It's just the tool shed but it looks good with the first dusting of snow.

It’s just the tool shed but it looks good with the first dusting of snow.

We made it through hunting season in November and I don’t have to walk around looking like a pumpkin with legs anymore, and now we’re well into December and it all comes back to me, the things to love and the things to, well, not so much.

I like the snow and as I write this we’re expecting a decent dump starting late tonight.  I’m a night person so I often do a preliminary shovelling of my sidewalk (is it the only one here in Monroe?  Might be.) so that I don’t have to move huge amounts at any one time.  Snow falling is magic and December is usually about the first snows that everyone enjoys.  The snow in April is enjoyed by far fewer folks.

That co-dependant holiday is just around the corner and the millions who do the obligatory gifting are crowding the venues.  A bit closer to the day and you might wonder if no one ever eats  except two times a year if you dare the grocery store.  It took me a couple of times but if you live in Canada and go to someone’s house for Christmas dinner you still need to shop before the holiday anyway, because ALL the grocery stores are closed on Boxing Day.  Weird.

But my real love/not-so-much with December stems from my life with Mr. Ever-Vigilant/ Scourge of the Forest, Murphy.

Who me?  I'm a love puppy.

Who me? I’m a love puppy.

The temperature is cold enough that he has lots of energy to patrol and bark which it is in his nature to do.  The leaves are gone from the trees and the air is crisp and a good barking rhythm can carry across the valley quite nicely, reminding all residents of the woods that they might better avoid this particular stretch.

Until there is a good amount of snow on the ground to make the excessive (in my mind) patrolling difficult, nearly every day it is possible that Murphy will not return from our afternoon foray up the hill and instead will move back and forth barking.  I would take him in the truck to Northern Pond and do our walk there so he would have to finish with me but in December the ice is not necessarily frozen enough and I do not want to repeat the Reverse Lassie. (See my post, The Thanksgiving Song: https://garbethegoddess.wordpress.com/2011/11/24/the-thanksgiving-song/  for that story.)

Usually he waits for me to at least start the walk with him but today when I came out he was already in full voice.  I started up the hill directly because he was already too close to the neighbour who doesn’t like him patrolling and never forgets an infraction.  I try to get ahead of where he is going so that we can meet in the woods but Murphy was already across the right of way and in the woods on the other side.  There is a loop trail on the neighbour’s property where we used to walk with permission until permission was revoked.  One too many times Murph opted to return in his own time and swing through their dooryard for a friendly chase of a cat if possible, alas.

So today I ran down the snow-covered upper part of the loop to get ahead of him.  I was just looking for the place where we used to cross a little stream when Murphy can running full tilt toward me.  He was all, hey! cool to meet you here! and I was all, what a surprise to find you here too!  I gave him a couple of cookies from my pocket and hooked him up.  He thoughtfully chose to backtrack my trail since it’s good not to go right by the neighbour’s house and give her more fuel for the stories.  ( She never forgets an episode and still uses as an example something he did when he was a juvenile.)

Across the right-of-way we followed my trail up the hill above our garage.  With the little bit of snow it’s hard to see the lay of the ground but traction is not too bad because the moisture from the ground has frozen so some steps are into eight or so inches of ice crystals which gives some traction.  Still there are rocks and piles of branches and some ice so it’s good for the balance to walk such uneven terrain.

So far, I’ve managed to bring him home every time he’s gone on barkabout, but it interrupts my work and I worry that he might get shot by one of those Maine hunters who feel entitled to the deer and erroneously think Murphy threatens that or that he might end up in a trap somewhere where I can’t find him.

Note, the day after:  The perfect winter storm started late last night.  We woke up to 8 inches and I shovelled my way out to the driveway, then barefooted (no snowshoes) down the unploughed driveway with dog and shovel to clear a walkway for my neighbour who has a dodgy heart.  ( Her heart’s in the right place, it’s just not up to heavy physical exertion .)  We walked down the road that the snowplough had done already and the reason I didn’t wear snowshoes.

To get the full information Murphy buries his nose in the snow,

To get the full information Murphy buries his nose in the snow,

So it’s all good now.  Murphy  and I love to run downhill in the snow, me with snowshoes.  He steals my mitten and flips it into the air, a playful moment for a usually serious guard dog.  Snowshoes were needed for the walk up the hill but not so much that Murphy couldn’t offer to break trail for me, but just enough that he came home from the walk and now is out on his long lead, letting the nearby world know that this hill is guarded, go elsewhere if you are a ne’er-do-well.  Today December is good.